Before beginning this blog, I think it is important to note that whether you are a Christian, of another religious belief or even an atheist, by in large it is well-known and studied in secular and non-secular arenas, that forgiveness is one of the greatest health benefits available to us as human beings. Of course we have the Bible, but we can find clinical studies as well by the American Psychological Association, John Hopkins Medicine, Stanford University, The Mayo Clinic, and many others!
A “victim mentality” is defined as “the belief that one is always a victim; the idea that bad things will always happen to one,” and it is closely related to another term known as “learned helplessness,” which is defined as “a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.”
If you are a human being, you have been victimized at some point in your life, and most likely there have been more of these instances than you care to count. It is not a matter of whether or not you have been victimized, but by whom, what, why and how? Your offender likely resides within one of 3 categories: 1). your own flesh (sin), 2). the broken world, 3). the enemy of your soul. Of course, the variations and complexities of these three offenders can be a challenging and painful thing to process, and many choose to just ignore the issue and pray that it will go away with time. But time does not heal all wounds.
When we are victimized we possess the complete and full ability to allow our hearts to succumb to either a victim or a survivor mentality. It may not feel as though that is the case, but our brains are actually wired this way, and there have been recent neurobiological studies and evidence to show the impact on our minds when we accept ourselves as victims vs. survivors who seek to forgive and overcome. We have seen many examples of survivors overcoming a victim mentality in order to gain greater freedom and clarity in life:
- The mistreated employee who forgives their tyrant boss, only to find a peace and awareness that leads to healthy correction at the current workplace or the courage to move on.
- The holocaust survivor who forgives his captors, without ever receiving an apology or reparation.
- Jesus, who endured the greatest abuse and sacrifice imaginable, and also the greatest victory for humankind.
Resentment does not remove the darkness. It feeds it.
The victim mentality begins when we choose a path of resentment, vengeance and anger, thereby setting the stage for evil. And evil will prevail. We know this by experience, but also by Scripture (1 Peter 3:9, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Deuteronomy 32:35, Leviticus 19:18, Mark 11:25, Proverbs 10:12, Romans 12:18, Genesis 50). Many are actually lured into this mindset by the enemy, because they either choose a cheap version of forgiveness or none at all because the offense is too great, or because the offender has not apologized or repented. This will not create a path to freedom, but rather a dull and long-standing bitterness that will slowly rot the soul. Firmly planted in resentment, we begin to see all other things through a faulty filter – a filter that is cloudy and discolored by evil. Over time, even the kindness of others will draw speculation or ambivalence, and when things go wrong we take them as a personal attack; a damning. Unrealistic expectations of others takes hold, as we make every possible attempt to protect ourselves from perceived harm and discord. And, yet, we will never find peace or satisfaction from others – even those who attempt to love us well. Relationships come with those unrealistic expectations and conditions, and are destined to fail because a resentful heart cannot find freedom to fully give or accept love. It is a dark place of bondage.
Jesus is the answer and forgiveness is the remedy.
Alternately, pure forgiveness holds to the truth that the debt has been paid, and that there is nothing the offender can or should do to repay the harm – it is finished. Of course, Jesus portrays the perfect example for us all on the cross, as He proclaims, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24). Jesus pleaded God’s forgiveness for the men brutally murdering him, even as they continued to do so and remained unrepentant. We can try to explain the offense away (fallen world, sinful people, evil intentions, etc.), which is not necessarily a harmful tactic, but the focus should always be on applying the healing hands of Christ to our wounded hearts.
We are not survivors because we achieve victory through our own sense of justice or revenge, but because we find inner peace in the midst of the storm, and no longer allow the power of darkness to rule in our hearts. We refuse to give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).
So, how does one know if they are living out of a victim mentality?
These places in our lives and memories, where we have experienced trauma, tragedy and hardship, we may choose to ask ourselves if we live our lives from a victim spirit. We all need help, guidance and honest feedback from those we trust so that we may discern if there are places we have been stuck.
Robert Leahy, PhD, Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, indicates six characteristics that comprise the victim mindset:
- You feel powerless, unable to solve a problem or cope effectively with it.
- You tend to see your problems as catastrophes.
- You tend to think others are purposefully trying to hurt you.
- You believe you alone are targeted for mistreatment.
- You hold tightly to thoughts and feelings related to being a victim. You also refuse to consider other perspectives for how to think about and for how to cope with your problems.
- As a victim, you feel compelled to keep painful memories alive, not forgive, and take revenge.
I would suggest that any of these characteristics may be evidence of a victim-mindset, but as the number increases so does the likelihood. Allowing yourself to NAME this issue gives you a target, which is a very good thing!
Of course, there is great power and healing in forgiveness, yet we may also need to engage a time of limit and boundary-setting with those who have caused harm. Be cautious to not allow your boundaries regarding an offender to impact your heart to forgive; after all, we do not want to surrender that part of us as well, do we?
† STAY TUNED: The next blog will focus on boundaries and limit-setting that follows true forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of a victim-mentality.